Puerto Rico: The Island Where The Absurd is Normal

Puerto Rico Primaries Belatina Latinx
Photo credit video screen shot NBC News

A local reporter once joked that Puerto Rico is not a circus because it is too broke to pay for a tent. A rosary of disasters a recession and insurmountable debt, corrupt administrations, hot summer protests that ended an entitled governor, hurricanes, earthquakes, a junta, more earthquakes, and a raging pandemic proved him right. It is one of the best descriptions of the island’s politics I had heard, until now.  

At present, Puerto Rico is a holy mess, one that defies description, so epic that it conjures up disasters of a Biblical proportion. It surpasses the island’s nickname Macondo the mythical village of “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” a place where an insomnia plague wiped out its resident’s collective memories. The absurd has become normal. 

The most recent example: the primaries that never were. 

On August 9th, for the first time in the island’s history, the primaries for the two traditionally predominant parties the ruling New Progressive Party (NPP), pro-statehood, and the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), which favors an association with the United States were partially suspended because the Elections Commission failed to deliver ballots to all polling centers in time. They are to resume on Sunday.  

“The primary process will remain suspended until it resumes on Sunday,” according to the Puerto Rican Supreme Court announcing the ruling, which was unanimous. The court also determined that the votes by those who were able to cast their ballots this past weekend “are valid and will not be annulled.” 

Whether the chaos was a result of crass ineptitude or a strategy to delay results, it is clear that the responsibility lies squarely with the NPP and its ruling members, and the ones paying the price are the Puerto Rican people. 

“In the embarrassing chaos produced by these primaries, the New Progressive Party can’t play the victim because the CEE (Elections Commission) is controlled and directed by them,” wrote Manuel de J. González in the newspaper Claridad.

“The same as the administration that the party has headed since 2017, the CEE is a dramatic example of incompetence since the NPP came to control the entity in 2018,” Gonzalez wrote. 

As it stands, NPP candidate Pedro Pierluisi and his running mate, Resident Commissioner Jeniffer González who, like rodents leaving a sinking ship — recently denied being part of the present NPP administration, look to be ahead in the vote count.

Pierluisi is chomping at the bit to win. He stormed La Fortaleza after former Governor Ricky Rosselló was ousted, but this proved unconstitutional, and he was asked to leave after just a week. Under the constitution, Governor Wanda Vázquez took his place without being elected. This time, he means to win, by any means possible. 

Pierluisi has an ally in this: Vázquez. Whichever way you look at it, Vázquez has been a complete failure. An NPP Republican, favoring statehood and Donald Trump, she opened the economy after a two-month lockdown and the strictest stay-at-home measures in a U.S. jurisdiction, and just a week after the head of the Task Force warned that it was too soon. So far, the island has had 8,714 confirmed and likely cases of the virus, and 157 deaths.

In the months that followed, escalating crime, blackouts, arrests of government officials, obfuscations from La Fortaleza, muzzling of the press by an increasingly irate and autocratic Vázquez, set the stage for a bloody primary season.

The PDP has also lost credibility with infighting and internal divisions. San Juan Mayor and Trump nemesis, Carmen Yulín Cruz, squandered much of her political capital by spending more time in Washington than in San Juan and now looks set to lose.  

In charisma and message, she is stronger than her opponents Senator Eduardo Bhatia and Charlie Delgado Altieri, but it probably will not be enough to pull in the dyed-in-the-wool Populares. As of this writing, all points to Delgado being the frontrunner.

But, if there is a silver lining in this embarrassing episode, that lining is Juan Dalmau. Dalmau is running for governor under the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) and the only sane voice in this chaotic mess. 

Puerto Ricans are fed up and no longer trust the traditional party offerings. So it might not matter who wins on Sunday, if the protests of the summer of 2019 bear fruit, and Puerto Ricans take their fate and future into their own hands. 

Maybe this mess will be the wake-up call that will raise Puerto Ricans from their insomniac plague of forgetfulness and make them remember who they are and what they could be.